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Reflections on Moon Viewing Platform

I hear pre-recorded, syncopated music with a voice reciting Japanese numbers, “ichi, ni, san, shi, go…” as I walk into the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) garage and scooch between onlookers who stand cozily in their fall jackets and hats, leaning into the ledge. Three stories below us sprawls a tract of the former rail line, turned disused weed garden, turned recently landscaped art installation created by Nadia Hironaka, Matthew Suib, and Eugene Lew.

Mirrors lie nestled in mulch in a discontinuous checkerboard fashion reflecting an overcast, sunset sky.

A huge, projected image of a rotating moon slowly waxes and wanes on the wall of the building opposite the garage. Brooke Sietinsons, Nathalie Shapiro, Tara Burke and Harold E. Smith play a drony, repetitive piece of music on guitar, harmonium, voice, and didjeridoo that reminds me of the cyclical nature of the moon’s phases.

Blue lights glow inside bundles of trees and hedges.

Hyun Jin pounds three sets of Korean drums: modeum buk, janggu (accompanied by Hwayoung Bae) and dae buk. The drums and the players’ guttural voices echo and boom in the small canyon between the buildings. Their sounds emphasize the enormity of the moon spinning across from us. As the sky darkens the moon projection takes on a higher contrast with deep craters, shadows, and furrows.

One tree aflame with more LED lights than leaves.

Keir Neuringer plays saxophone continuously like a hummingbird. He layers sound with a looping pedal: geese squawking, bees buzzing, babies screeching, moose moaning, altogether sounds like what falling from a great height might feel like. Keisuke Yamada fills the space with clicks, twangs, and glides of his shamisen. The music and changing twilight heightens the sensation of time passing.

Blue lights underneath the shrubs intensify in the darkening of the evening, illuminating the entire wall.

One audience member comments to another that if this were a “real Japanese moon viewing” there wouldn’t be live music. We would be having tea and snacks and listening to poetry. In a further twisting of expectations, a film appears on the entire wall in front of us spanning many, many yards high and wide.

Grey pebbles raked into consecutive circles like tree rings, or pond ripples.

The film in eight shorts, each representing a lunar phase, contains footage of the making of the site––cutting weeds with huge clippers, raking gravel, laying down mirrors––and images of wildlife, children playing, and magic realism. In each section an object or person transforms into the moon: the mouth of Harold E. Smith’s didjeridoo becomes a new moon; Thomas Patteson’s bald head becomes a third quarter moon; a cat eye becomes a waning gibbous moon; a child’s gumball becomes a full moon.

Tiny yellow floor lights line the combed gravel edges.

Everyone who appears in the film wears blue and yellow, matching the lights in the installation. Even the gum that the artists’ child, Anja Suib-Hironaka chews and pulls into long tendrils out of her mouth matches the piece’s theme colors. Two other children, Itzela & Elio Wiley sit across from one another in wicker hats, playing an intensely competitive seeming, yet incomprehensible game with cards that contain lunar phases pictured in yellow and blue. The ground underneath them becomes a blue sky with clouds that they float on top of as they play.

The ground dotted with ceramic pots called moon vessels that were created by CCP art students.

Chimes indicate each shift of moon phase, and the shorts are accompanied by the music of crickets, vibraphone, and electronics that pitter patter. Smith sweeps his didjeridoo through clearings among the weeds, as if he were landscaping with his instrument. The final image in the film is of a bird’s eye view of the site, not unlike the audience’s view. Smith then strolls onto the site, in the flesh, playing the didjeridoo down the gravel path.

The edge of the lot lined with autumnal, reddening sumac trees.

This ambitious project contains more elements than one could fully grasp in one viewing. I feel a sense of joy and hunger from this fleeting art experience, and I am left pondering what I might have missed. I wonder what will happen to this site once the festival is over. At the moment, no organization has committed resources to maintaining this space, and as it stands now, it will likely be re-consumed by wild plants and animals again within a couple of years.

Moon Viewing Platform (Waning Gibbous Moon), Nadia Hironaka, Matthew Suib, and Eugene Lew with guest artists Harold E. Smith, Hyun Jin Cha, Keisuke Yamada, Keir Neuringer, Brooke Sietinsons, Nathalie Shapiro, and Tara Burke, 465 North 18th Street, October 19th, 2019.

Aaron Igler / Greenhouse Media; The Academy of Natural Sciences: Michael Kaczmarczik;
All Seasons Landscaping: Ed Kauffeld, Steve Ganz; American Composers Forum: Gene Coleman, Stanford Thompson; Anja Suib-Hironaka; Apiary Studio; Ben Miller; Community College of Philadelphia: Al Tomlin, Derrick Sawyer, Dr. Donald Generals, Ed Orner, Erica Harrison, Jacob Eapen, Jerome Wilkerson, Tyreice DuPass; Connie Yu; Dan Punshon-Smith; DBS Audio System; Friends of the Rail Park: Kevin Dow, Shawn Sheu; Genevieve Delaney; Japan Foundation, New York; Jeff Brown; Jen Brown; Jim Christensen; Maddie Hewitt; Marina McDougall Vella ; Mural Arts: Jane Golden, Judy Hellman, Todd Bressi; Rodin Market Partners; SEPTA; Yoko.

Reflections on Moon Viewing Platform